One of my first nights here, at the basketball courts, I found two other fellows waiting to play in the next game. They asked me to join their team and, unfamiliar with the environment, I gladly obliged. I noticed that they were speaking a language unlike the dominant one here, and was excited to see how their interaction with the mainstream group would play out. Then, to my surprise, I realized that the crowded park (and perhaps the largest and most beautiful in this city) surrounding the basketball courts was clearly predominated by his kin. Intrigued by the group dynamics, I turn to him, in an attempt to elicit his thoughts on the matter, and say, “Isn’t it nice here? There’s such a great mix of different people!” He didn’t seem as impressed nor inspired as I was, as he responded, “this is the way it should be. Not just here, everywhere.” His expression displayed confidence and yet almost an exhaustion from the contentious social issues I was alluding to.
At another public space located in the heart of the city, I was greeted three times a week by the same clerk at the front desk, who works alongside a number of staff who chat with him in the same dialect as my basketball teammate. Afterwards, I head to the indoor gym where I work out next to members of both linguistic groups in a room teeming with civility. It is encouraging to see the clerk enjoy a position at the social interface of a popular fitness center, in a place devoid of any trace of segregation or discrimination.
Lastly, I came across a very special, and likely common, scene in an historically significant part of the city, enclosed by ancient walls protecting a place of profound meaning for all segments of society. On one side of the ancient walls, in an area mostly populated by the minority linguistic group, firecrackers were being shot into the air in what seemed to be ushering in a religious ceremony. On the other side, members of the majority community added the sounds of singing, bongos and horns dedicated to a separate religious ceremony. Together, they created a cacophony, and yet beautiful harmony, of religious voices.
If you haven’t picked it up by now, I’ve been living in Jerusalem.
I don’t mean to overstate the social equality, brush over the real issues, or divert attention away from the glaring problems within Israel, and especially in the West Bank and Gaza, or conversely, within the surrounding countries.
But after a summer of reading disheartening headlines and receiving constant miserable news, it gives me a sense of hope to turn to a source of knowledge often overlooked by the media, in my own personal experience.
Unfortunately, this imperfect world is constantly polarized by different and often clashing identities. All we can hope for in our situation is to positively redefine this world as one that we share with one another. It gives me satisfaction to know that this is a city being similarly redefined every day, despite having been seized by a brutal string of violence less than ten years ago.
I’m going to miss this crazy place. But most of all, I’m going to miss the Arabic expletives so often used on the basketball court– one of the few things that Israelis and Arabs share.